Brian Kassler started his career building sets for theatre and film, then worked as a camera grip on a host of New Zealand features. In the mid 80s he started supplying film equipment to local crews, before launching successful production company Flying Fish with Lee Tamahori. Today he fronts Showtools, a film production website.
I saw it as something new and different...something like going to the moon, no one’s done it before and I wonder what it’s like. Brian Kassler, on starting his company Showtools
This short documentary follows refugee Mitchell Pham from a Vietnam War prison camp to a new home in New Zealand. Director Sally Tran — a 2013 Killer Films Internship Scholarship recipient — uses an interview with Pham as an adult, and live action mixed with animation to recreate the harrowing childhood journey. DIY more than CGI, the animation process was based on Vietnamese folded paper-craft. Requiring 20 volunteers, the 10,000 animated pieces of paper (and a rich score from The Sound Room) provide suggestive weight to Pham’s story of survival and courage.
Rebecca Gin created a simple but effective black and white video for this charity single, aimed at encouraging young people to ‘Think Twice’ before committing a crime. The line-up of singers and rappers is indeed all-star, and their mass performance footage is intercut with relevant street scenes illustrating the theme. The cast of New Zealand hip-hop royalty features Che Fu, Scribe, P-Money, Savage and DJ Sir-Vere (who initiated the project).
This all star cover of Mutton Birds classic ‘Anchor Me’ was made to mark the 20th anniversary of the sinking of Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior. After Hinewehi Mohi’s haunting introduction, singers including Anika Moa, Kirsten Morrell (Goldenhorse) Che Fu, and Milan Borich (Pluto) walk towards the camera across a washed out landscape. Nuclear blasts, pollution and Greenpeace vessels can all be seen, while doves pull rainbows across the screen.
This ambitious video for Head Like a Hole's cowpunk Bruce Springsteen cover was shot by commercials company Flying Fish — at vastly more expense than the low budget recording which supplies the soundtrack. There's more than a cursory nod to U2's LA rooftop video for 'Where The Streets Have No Name' (including fake radio coverage from Channel Z). But HLAH get a higher building, and, unlike U2's guerrilla effort, the apparent blessing of the city fathers (with Mayor Mark Blumsky on site). The video marked one of the last appearances of drummer Mark 'Hidee Beast' Hamill.
Eric the Goldfish was the star of a campaign used to promote awareness of the role of broadcasting funding agency NZ On Air (formed in 1989), and to encourage people to pay the broadcasting fee. The campaign used humour and CGI to spread the message, taking the point of view of a pet goldfish watching a family, who are watching TV. Although it attracted attention for its cost, the campaign was rated an "outstanding success" by its funders, and Eric entered popular culture. In 2017 Eric was reincarnated as the name of NZ On Air’s online funding application system.
One shaggy dog, dozens of humans, and a smorgasbord of Kiwi scenery: viewers were glued to the screen for this TV One promotional campaign, which began screening in August 1991. The six-part promo followed a lovable sydney silky poodle cross travelling the country by car, train and paw. En route, roughly 50 Kiwis make blink and you'll miss it appearances: including sporting figures, local townspeople, and 20+ TV personalities (see backgrounder for more info, and clues on who is who). The popular promos were directed by Lee Tamahori, before he made Once Were Warriors.
This epic Lee Tamahori-directed promo for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games imagines the stirrings of Games spirit in the mud of the Western Front, 1917. Behind the lines, soldiers from various 'British Empire' nations (Bruno Lawrence, Tony Barry and a young Joel Tobeck) lay bets to see who is the fastest. After racing they pledge to "do this again sometime eh brother" (referring no doubt to the shared joy of competition, as opposed to 1,115,597 Commonwealth war dead). The first Commonwealth Games were held in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), in 1930.
The first single for short-lived Wellington band The Holidaymakers was a cover of a little-known song by American Bill Withers. It spent six weeks at number one and was the biggest-selling single in New Zealand in 1988. On a low budget director Fane Flaws created a beautifully lit video that captures the song’s infectious brightness and warmth. With a collection of lamps the only concession to props or special effects, nothing detracts from the compelling performances by vocalists Peter Marshall and Mara Finau. Sweet Lovers won Best Video at the 1988 NZ Music Awards.
Auckland band Herbs could have released their new album in the comfortable confines of an Auckland nightclub. Instead, they travelled to Ruatoria — a troubled and divided East Coast town where turmoil surrounding a Rastafarian sect had resulted in assaults, kidnappings and firebombed churches. Lee Tamahori and John Day's documentary captures an emotional experience for band and locals as they meet at Mangahanea Marae, in an attempt to shift the focus from disunity to harmony. This footage also yielded the award-winning Sensitive to a Smile music video.
In this video billowing sails and an impressive array of mid-80s celebrities (musicians, broadcasters, sportspeople) raise their voices in patriotic fervour, to rally support for the first Kiwi challenge for the America’s Cup: “in a boat just called New Zealand”. The bid failed, but ‘Sailing Away’ set a record for the most consecutive weeks at number one by a NZ artist (nine), until the arrival of Smashproof’s ‘Brother’ in 2009. The tune — borrowed from ‘Pokarekare Ana’ — remains both as a reminder of simpler times in the America’s Cup, and an era of questionable haircuts.
Pioneering poet, author and journalist Robin Hyde was originally Iris Wilkinson. Directed by Tony Isaac (The Governor), this ambitious co-production for television mines quotations from Wilkinson's writing to dramatise her life. In a parallel plotline, a writer, actor and director wrestle with how to capture Iris on screen. For Australian Helen Morse (Picnic at Hanging Rock) playing Iris was a privilege — and her "most difficult" role to date. Morse concluded that Iris was "extraordinarily vulnerable emotionally". This excerpt includes a cameo by the writer's real life son Derek Challis.
Mitch (Keith Aberdein) moves to Tongariro National Park to help wrangle wild horses threatening ecology and traffic. He meets Sara, who shares an obsession for a fabled silver horse. They clash with rangers and deer recovery guns-for-hire (Bruno Lawrence is the black-clad villain) determined to eradicate the horses, and a showdown on the Desert Plateau ensues. In the notoriously fraught production a stable of Kiwi acting legends perform a melange of western and freedom-on-the-range genre turns (with the conservationists oddly set up as the bad guys).
Author Maurice Shadbolt went before the cameras to play father to the main character, in this adaptation of his acclaimed coming of age novel. Teen Nick (Paul O’Shea) is estranged from his family, and blaming himself for his Māori mate's climbing death. He runs away to his straight talking grandfather (Derek Hardwick) — who takes him bush — and loses his virginity to Sally (a first film role for Rebecca Gibney). Produced by Pacific Films legend John O’Shea, the NZ-German co-production was directed by Rolf Hädrich (Stop Train 349). The film debuted in NZ on television.
Hooks and Feelers tells the story of a painter haunted by an accident in which her son lost a hand. Written and directed by Melanie Rodriga, the 45-minute psychological drama explores guilt and reconciliation as the family adjusts to his disability. An adaptation of the short story by future Booker Prize-winner Keri Hulme, Hooks and Feelers starred jazz singer Bridgette Allen and Keith Aberdein (Smash Palace). It screened on TV in 1984. With producer Don Reynolds, Rodriga (then known as Melanie Read) would go on to make pioneering feminist thriller Trial Run (1984).
This pirates of the South Seas tale stars Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, The Fugitive) as rogue Bully Hayes, who helps a missionary save his kidnapped-by-savages wife. Produced by Kiwis Rob Whitehouse and Lloyd Phillips (12 Monkeys, Inglorious Basterds), the film was made in the 80s ‘tax-break’ feature surge and filmed in Fiji and New Zealand (with an NZ crew and supporting cast). John Hughes (Breakfast Club) and David Odell (Dark Crystal) scripted the old-fashioned swashbuckler from a Phillips story. It was released by Paramount in the US as Nate and Hayes.
In a lawless fuel wars future, marauders roam the wasteland looking for oil. Their malevolent leader Straker threatens his daughter Corlie; she’s rescued by loner Hunter and they harbour with eco-sensitive folk in the Clearwater Commune ... but not for long: there will be blood on the Central Otago plains! Following in the exhaust of Mad Max, the cult film was made during the 80s tax-break feature surge, with US director (Harley Cokliss) and leads flocking south during a Hollywood writers’ strike, and Kiwis as crew (“artists with chainsaws”) and supporting cast.
After hitting Wellington for a Ranfurly Shield game, two brothers from the sticks (Grant Tilly and Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) have to sneak their abruptly deceased father back home. If the body isn’t buried there, they won’t inherit the family farm. Set back when "blokes were blokes and sheilas were their mums", director John Reid’s shaggy dog tale — a Weekend at Bernie's, reeking of stale beer and ciggies — both lauds and satirises the Kiwi male. Among the six clips, the final clip sees Tilly's character getting things off his chest, now that Dad is finally unable to answer back.
Arguably one of New Zealand's most beloved advertising campaigns, the Crumpy and Scotty adverts combined an iconic Kiwi author, odd couple comedy, and off road driving. They also deftly sent up two cliches: the unruffled country guy — in the shape of Good Keen Man Barry Crump — and the wimp from the city (played by Lloyd Scott). The first ad sees Scotty trying to sell the brilliance of the Hilux four-wheel drive, while Crumpy takes a backroads short cut. The follow-up spot sees Scotty taking extra precautions. The Crumpy and Scotty ads continued for 12 more years.
Australian producer Antony Ginnane brought this $6 million romp to New Zealand, after Aussie union Actors Equity objected to the four lead roles going to foreigners. Deer hunting heroes Donald Pleasance (Halloween) and Ken Wahl (six years before becoming TV's Wise Guy) race around in helicopters and jet boats, after discovering a half-sunken WWll plane. This opening excerpt indicates the film's mixture of action, comedy and Southern scenery. Zephyr helped establish Aotearoa's reputation as a place to film; Ginnane and Kiwi John Barnett produced further projects together.
Smash Palace is a Kiwi cinema classic and launched Roger Donaldson's American career. Al Shaw (a brilliant, brooding Bruno Lawrence) is a racing car driver who now runs a wrecker's yard in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu. His French wife Jacqui is unhappy there and leaves him, taking up with Al's best mate. When she restricts Al's access to his young daughter, his frustration explodes and he goes bush with the girl, desperate not to lose her too. "There's no road back" runs the tagline. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called the film "amazingly accomplished".
Barney Blackfoot (Ian Watkin) is a mean stepfather who married Billy and Lucy's mother under false pretenses, later revealing his evil nature. Barney is helped in his exploits by his friend (a moving wardrobe), and together they set out to destroy Lucy and Billy's happy home. Designed in soft sculpture (Cabbage Patch Kids style) and filmed in live action with special effects, this Yvonne Mackay-directed short film is aimed at children and is without dialogue or narration. The early Gibson Group film was scripted by Ian Mune and scored by Jack Body.
Rodeo thrills and spills — Kiwi style — are on display in this documentary following two cowboys travelling the circuit in a 1950s Chrysler. They compete in events in Fairlie, Rerewhakaaitu and Warkworth, and encounter American and Australian stars along the way. Broncos, calves and bulls are ridden, wrestled or roped; but pride of place goes to spectacular shots of them using rodeo skills to capture deer by helicopter. A parade, the 'Cowboy's Prayer' and fearless rodeo clowns also feature. Legendary commercials maker Geoff Dixon (founder of company Silverscreen) directs.